Rarity and Condition vs. Cosmetics

Discussion in 'G / O / S Scale Model Trains' started by Flash, Jan 27, 2005.

  1. Flash

    Flash New Member

    I need some advice from an experienced collector.

    This past Christmas I pulled out from 35-40 years of storage my Lionels from the early 50's, cleaned them up, lubricated, and set up a layout on a 4x8 board around the tree. Had a blast and started researching postwarlionel.com/ to figure out what it is I have. That got me to The Gauge, E-Bay, and several train auction sites. I quickly realized that there is a lot of old stuff out there and that rarity and condition (original) make a huge impact on pricing.

    Question: If I replace the front boiler plate (trim light broken off) and touch up the paint to fix a few dings on a Lionel Hudson class 4-6-4 steamer from 1950-1951, will that devalue the engine? I have a Lionel Rock Island 2031 Diesel set from 1952-1954 that could use some paint touch up on the white trim bands on the locomotives.

    Am I better off leaving them alone? I want to bring all of my stock back to top mechanical and cosmetic condition before I embark on building a new layout.
  2. Dragon

    Dragon Member

    Ummm....if you're going to run them, who cares if they get devalued?
    Trains are for running, not "investing". :)
  3. Flash

    Flash New Member

    By the same token, if I'm going to run them AND keep them, why not do it right when it comes to maintainence, repair, and correct restoration? I made a similar mistake with a vintage automobile I have; the cost of restoration to original has had me kicking myself ever since.
  4. Dave Farquhar

    Dave Farquhar Member

    First, let me give a disclaimer: Lots of people have been into train collecting a lot longer than me. These observations are based on my limited experience and what I've been able to pick up from the experienced collectors I've been fortunate enough to meet and talk with.

    Replacing parts with original replacements (as opposed to modern reproductions) isn't likely to devalue the engine, although painting probably will. Some collectors won't touch a repaint, no matter what. Others like a good restoration, but it really depends on the condition the piece was in to begin with.

    Your 2031 is valuable enough (I'm guessing $300 in its present condition; could be more) that I'd be hesitant to paint it unless it's really far gone. By all means seek out more opinions than mine, but I'd be wary. It's not fair, but a repainted original can be worth less than a modern reproduction of the same thing.

    I've left my Dad's Lionel 2037 and 2026 locomotives, which are worth about $100-$150, alone except for replacing a missing rear truck and drawbar on the 2026. They're so common that painting probably wouldn't hurt their value to a collector and would likely increase their appeal to someone who just wanted to run them. But your stuff is in a different league.

    The safest thing to do is to replace any broken parts, clean the stuff up, and enjoy it. If the attitude towards repaints lightens up, you can always do your touchups at a later date.

    You're right, there is a ton of original postwar out there now, and two things are contributing to a soft market: Lionel, Williams, and MTH basically have the entire Lionel postwar catalog back in production again between the three of them, so someone who wants a nice-looking piece can be virtually assured of getting one. Also, since we have better plastics and better tooling today, in theory the modern production stuff will work better than the originals, so a lot of people prefer the modern stuff. The other factor is that the population who bought them is aging, so forgotten Lionels are coming out of the closets and attics and many people choose to sell them rather than do what you're doing. So until more people decide that it makes more sense to buy an antique train set for the same price as a brand-new one that looks just like it, prices will be low.
  5. Flash

    Flash New Member

    Thanks for your input. I wasn't looking for agreement, just knowledgeable advice from someone who has been in this for a while I am at ground zero. Been out of the loop for about 40 years and had to begin by merely finding out what it is I have first and going from there. I like your idea of repair and clean, then leave well enough alone. Besides, there's a great story behind these cosmetic imperfections, the indescretions of a 4 year old with his first train set in 1955. Back then Magnetraction was totally inneffective with my right hand on the ZW throttle.

    Just after Thanksgiving a friend of mine (in same boat with a 671RR 6-8-6) and I pulled out a few things as the plan was to set up a 4x8 temporary layout around the Christmas tree. Found out the smoke element on the 2046 wasn't working and the 2046W tender was struggling to whistle. Off to the hobby shop with the stuff, bought solder, flux, soldering iron, wire, and the correct smoke element. Four hours of meticulous cleaning, repair, lube/oil, and I was back in action.

    It isn't that the cosmetics on my stuff are objectionable. To the untrained eye the folks that came over to the house over the holidays thought the stuff looked nearly new. But then I see some pictures on the net of completed layouts with guys' hardware looking so good, and that is what I want my starting point to be.

    This site has been a good reference point for track, switches, and operating accessories. Stored (improperly) my stuff looks really tired. Time to inventory, clean up the remaining cars, and start making space in the basement for a permanent layout.

    Went to a train show in either Hamilton or Wenham Massachusetts about 10 years ago and am going to look into some local shows to bone up and to hook up with some local fanatics.

    Again, thanks for the advice.
  6. Dave Farquhar

    Dave Farquhar Member

    The stories behind those battle scars are one of the reasons some people are reluctant to touch up. As far as the pictures in the magazines or on the 'net, often the equipment is either new, or the people are collectors who are showing off their very best stuff, out of large collections. So comparing our layouts with that is a bit like comparing how we look in the morning with how a celebrity looks in a magazine--not necessarily a fair comparison. Also, I don't know who else has noticed this, but a good friend took some pictures of my layout a couple of months ago. The pictures look a lot better than the real thing. Distance tended to hide the flaws, and JPEG compression reduced them even further.

    Track and switches often clean up surprisingly well with nothing more than a Scotch-brite pad and some household cleaner. Plain white vinegar works well. It's a bit of work but usable. Or you can buy better-condition track. Tubular track seems to breed, so it's cheap and commonly available. You're in a very good part of the country to get this stuff; there are lots more shows out there than here in the midwest.

    Regardless, have fun with it. About a year ago I started on a permanent layout in my basement with my dad's stuff from the '50s. It's been great. I'm about to start improving it with a better trackplan now that I've accumulated more track and switches. And there are lots of places online to find advice for vintage Lionel. Let me know if you want some links.

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